In 2004, linguist and professor Mark Liberman came across the following quote: “More people have written about this than I have.” The University of Pennsylvania professor couldn’t believe that nobody had noticed anything wrong with this phrase, which was a clear example of an Escher sentence.
Escher sentences, also known as comparative illusions, are comparative sentences which seem to be make a logical comparison but upon closer reflection have no meaning at all. Linguists note that Escher sentences often blend two or more expected phrases together to create a nonsensical or meaningless phrase.
Consider the example noted at the beginning of the article: “More people have written about this than I have.” No matter what subject the speaker is referring to, it makes sense that more people have written about it than just the speaker themselves! The phrase is set up to sound like it will convey information, but no actual details are given. It’s an empty sentence that leaves the audience with exactly as much knowledge as they had before.
Want to know some more Escher sentences to confuse and irritate your friends and family? Here are some great phrases to pull out when you have nothing better to say:
- I feel more like I do now than I did when I got here.
- More people have been to jail than I have.
- If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.
- There are four of you, including ourselves.
- Any beliefs he didn’t have had no bearing on the beliefs he never considered.
- More phones have games on them than this one.
- The future isn’t what it used to be.
- More people have analyzed it than I have.
- It’s warmer in the summer than in the country.
- When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
- There are more planes in the ocean than submarines in the sky.
- I’m pretty tall for my height.
- He’s quite heavy for his weight.
- My name is pronounced just as it sounds.
- Do you walk to school or take your lunch?
- Trains run faster at night than on rails.
- Cold rolls taste better warm than tasty.
- It is shorter on foot than over the mountain.
- It is brighter during the day than outside.
- The horse is higher in front than behind.
- Cola tastes better than from a glass.
- It is further on foot than over the mountain.
- It’s faster over the mountain than on foot.
- It’s colder at night than outside.
Here are a few more sentences that are not exactly Escher sentences, but they are either illogical or senseless.
- The business offers employees up to $16 an hour or more.
- Every 60 seconds in Africa, a minute passes.
- If I was any better, there would be two of me.
- If everyone were right, there would be nobody left.
- Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.
- He usually came the most when he left.